Sunday, December 30, 2012

We drank a toast to now

I love Chaunson! He is one of the best horses I have ever known. I have a friend who tells me that I say that about every horse, so I don't know if you can trust me. It is true that I haven't met a horse I didn't love, but Chaunson is a truly special boy. Here he is, above, chewing a carrot he just secured from a little neighbor boy!

Yesterday it poured all morning and I was worried the morning ride might not happen. I forgot I was in paradise where it rains and then the sun comes out anyway. Barb tacked up her sweet Titan and Kristen was riding Koda and I hopped on my amazing boy and we hit the streets.

Earlier in the car on the way to the barn, I had missed a turn and discovered a new way to the park. There were equestrian signs on those streets so I talked the gang into going that way on our ride. Kristen is in the market for a new house so we made it a "real estate" ride and she took photos of houses that were for sale. It ended up being a "Halloween ride" with our horses trick-or-treating door to door because anyone who saw us rushed out with carrots and treats for the horses! 

This man and his children shared carrots with Koda and Chaunson and Titan. The horses loved going out for a ride and getting treated up. The funniest thing about this family was that the man was holding an infared camera. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that he was looking at the heat on our horses! He gave it to me and said, "Here - you can use it - but be careful, don't drop it - I am going in to get my sons and carrots!" Great - oh, no - I don't even take pictures when I am on Chaunson since I don't have a saddle and need to pay attention and here I was holding this nutty device! I looked at the horses and their colors and temperatures - it was very cool, but I quickly handed it to Kristen.

The next neighborhood had another family who came out and gave Koda some peppermints. Chaunson and Titan had found their favorite nuts on the ground in the family's front yard so they were munching away happily. 

Here Barb and adorable Titan are entering another neighborhood and Koda's head is in the photo too. You can see a small sign to the right under the No Parking sign. It has a tiny horse and explains that horses are permitted on the streets and sidewalks in that area. Love it!

Amazing Chaunson - as sweet as he is pretty!

The Three Chestnut Musketeers 

The sun came out on part of our ride and it got hot and breezy. Koda was pretty sweaty so Kristen hosed him off and we all went over to the churchyard for some happy post-ride grazing. Koda thought it might be a nice place for a roll - Kristen was cracking up laughing!

When we returned, Barb found the black and white kitty snuggled in a hay bag! What a sweetie pie. And, in other barn news, Ducky found himself a girlfriend. I don't have a photo yet, mainly because she is an ugly one. Poor Ducky, he fell in love with a bossy, bitty woman who resembles a Turkey Vulture, but must have some sort of duck in her lineage because our sweet boy is smitten and tolerates all her abuse. When I get enough courage to photograph her ugliness - looks and behavior - I will share it. It is sad to see, but I suppose we can't choose the perfect mate for others!

Speaking of perfect - here is Noodlebug donning her Christmas eve sombrero that Maizie made out of a Butterfinger Bell foil wrapper!

And here the lovely one is again, completely tuckered out from all the Christmas morning gift giving festivities!

One more week in paradise and then back home to Pennsylvania. Mom just sent me this photo which doesn't look too bad...a bit chilly!

Oh, how I will treasure the memories of our trip this year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Love and Good Cheer

These were my two favorite holiday television commercials when I was growing up. Just click the images to instantly be transported back to Christmases past. Coincidentally, both have horses - (both also are for alcohol - not sure what that means!) Anyway, enjoy a sleigh ride back into a simpler time. Happy holidays from all of us here at Honeysuckle Faire!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I fell in love with you before the second show

Barb and I made plans to meet at 9 o'clock on Friday for a ride, but the morning arrived windy and chilly. When I heard the wind and felt the bite in the air, I wondered what Chaunson would be like with extra zip. I realize that it wasn't actually cold like at home, but for Florida it was chilly. I wore many layers and even my thin running balaclava under my helmet. 

Chaunson was good to groom so I got on and we walked quietly with Barb and Titan toward the parks. As we made our way down a sandy alley, one woman turned out a group of horses. The horses were obviously feeling good in all the wind and cold and started bucking and racing and twisting happily. Chaunson stood and snorted but it didn't seem like he was too upset. The woman said that she was sorry, but I told her not to worry - what are you going to do? It wasn't her fault that we came by at that exact time. Her horses were happy and having a ball and Chaunson puffed a few times, but really kept it together.

Barb and I took the horses on a new adventure around some neighborhoods where we rode Titan and Max last year. On this crazy windy Friday our quiet horses ignored the whipping flags and flying holiday decorations. Both Chaunson and Titan should win awards for being unflappable. In fact, we were laughing about how Titan never shies and at that second he did a tiny side step when an umbrella in a yard was lifted by the wind. It was a quick bunny step and Barb just laughed because she never sees him shy. Then later we went over a bridge and a huge, white egret flew out from under the canal but Chaunson did nothing. The bird scared me because I had no idea what it was, but Chaunson wasn't worried. What a horse - winning my heart with each ride! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's the hap-happiest season of all

Friday evening Maizie was having a friend fly in to stay with us and I knew I would not be able to visit the barn and adorable Chaunson boy until Tuesday. Therefore, my Friday morning ride would be my last for a while and I hoped it would be a good one. Chaunson gave me the best ride of all time and it was full of sunshine and friends. Here we are in the park - four friends on our amazing horses, standing in a circle. Barb took these fabulous photos but no one took one of her and Titan! This will have to be remedied on a later ride! 

Katie was on Buddy with her sweet and quiet Abby dog beside.

Judy was on sweet Sage. Only Titan's little ears were captured!

As a group, we did all the parks and the zebra alley and alpaca road although the alpacas were not out. Shortly after these photos in the first park were taken, Chaunson got very upset. I am not sure what was wrong, but I suspect he was getting some bad vibes from Buddy. I can not properly explain how proud I am of him and what he did in the next half mile of our ride. First, he became very nervous and started trotting in place and felt like he might explode. He was chomping an imaginary bit and coiling up and trotting in such a tight ball that it was like he was nervously trotting inside his own skin. I kept thinking that I would not be able to get him back to the barn without dismounting, but he stayed with me. Every thing I asked, he gave. We walked across the street to the next park and the three other horses started to walk away and he made a bee-line in the opposite direction heading for the barn. I stopped him and asked him to turn back and follow them and he did. I know that he did not want to go with them, but he did it for me. I asked everyone if I could get in front of the group away from Buddy and I could feel Chaunson relax. He walked the rest of the ride without one problem. I never had to dismount and I felt like Chaunson was giving all he had for me. What a horse! Leaving him on Friday afternoon was tough because I knew I wouldn't be able to properly spoil him the next few days. I received happy texts from his owner each day telling me that the special boy was getting all his proper treatment and love and goodies! 

We spent the last few days on the beach and around the village with Maizie's friend, Lindsay. Maizie and Lindsay were cross-country running friends this past fall so it was great to have her come and visit for a few days. They walked on the beach and shopped and went swimming and kayaked and biked and just enjoyed being teens. Brian and I enjoyed watching them - middle school friends on a quick Florida getaway together. 

Painting their nails with special polish that changes color in the sun...

...and paddling around in the kayaks.

Big smiles on the sunny back porch. Happy holidays for everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brown paper packages tied up with string

On Friday morning's ride, Chaunson and Sage encounter a new alpaca friend. Just one of the many magical happenings in this special place.

Have you ever been part of something so wonderful and unique that you are afraid to talk about it because the act of trying to describe it with words might make it vanish altogether? That is how I feel about the boarding barn where I ride here in Florida and the community of people and animals who keep this special place alive. It is magical and happy and hilarious at times, but like a mirage I get the sense that its magic is fleeting - kindly sharing its treasures with us only for a small sliver of time. Blink and you might miss it.

On Monday evening as I was assembling my apples and carrots for Tuesday morning's trail ride, Brian asked me who was going to be there. I said that I wasn't sure but I thought Judy and Mandy were definitely going. Brian and I continually marvel at how many people actually ride each day here in Florida. Barb, Niki, Kristen, Mandy, Judy, Tom#1, Tom#2, Jolayne, and probably a handful of other people I don't know yet could all easily be out riding with me. Morning rides at this barn remind me of a pick-up game on a local basketball court. People just come to the barn in the morning without arranging anything in advance. As they groom and tack up, others arrive and they all head out to the equestrian parks together. 

Barb on Titan and Tom on Norton

This wouldn't seem unusual or ephemeral at all if the barn were an upscale place with many amenities that pulled in an active equestrian clientele. One could easily imagine a large group of horse lovers assembling in a state of the art facility to exercise their horses and take part in group rides each morning. But this barn is not state of the art. In fact, if I take off my rose-colored glasses for a brief glimpse, I would have to say this barn is architecturally and structurally not much more than a long, dilapidated cardboard box. No one could be coming here because they are drawn to the clean, crisp amenities. The building and fences are standing because of the will of a higher being. From the street you might not realize that shantytown sheds and falling down fencing on this small suburban corner is actually a boarding stable housing 20 or more horses. Yet, just like a secret brown paper package tied up with string (in this case, held together with recycled hay bale binder twine) inside is a precious gift - a priceless gem. Inside is a group of people and animals with hearts of pure gold.

Jolayne on Scooter after our Tuesday ride through the parks, like all of us trying to document this amazing experience for all time.

Last year I posted about this place when my friend, Barbara, suffered a heartbreaking loss and the boarders and barn operator sponsored a benefit in her behalf. One of the boarders, Catherine, who helped to organize Barb's benefit, sadly passed away this summer. The barn group again pulled together to stretch their safety nets out and save Catherine's horse from being sold and sent to an unknown fate. The gelding is still at the barn in the same, comfortable stall and loved and owned by a familiar friend. 

At the heart of the activity is Mandy McCluskey-Finan, a quiet horsewoman who teaches people to ride and, more importantly, she teaches everyone how to truly enjoy horses. She always listens to the horse first which is why the horses at this barn are happy and safe. Mandy has rescued many horses and has a gift for matching horses with the people who need them most. 

Mandy on her Scooter boy.

She quietly accompanies students on rides out to the local equestrian parks. Students learn to ride well outside of the safe ring and this practice is the core of why this place is bustling, in my opinion. Our expensive Pennsylvania barns with wide aisles and pristine rings and jumps are ghost towns. Horses stand in their stalls all day only to be lunged occasionally or cantered around in a ring in the evening. No one talks to each other and certainly no one heads out of the ring together for a ride to a local park! I believe Mandy's students learn to feel comfortable outside of a ring which opens up secret doors and magnetically pulls people and horses together. I have a sneaking suspicion that enjoying a horse without a training agenda - whether on footpaths or hills or streets or mountains each day for a short amount of time is addictive because it feels right and good and safe for horses and humans of any age, any discipline. And I mean any age - our oldest rider on Tuesday was 76! 

Adding to the fun here is the fact that one never knows what they will encounter out in the equestrian parks. On our Friday ride, Judy and I ran into a small herd of cantering alpacas. I had written about these cuties back in December of 2010 when I incorrectly called them "llamas". Here Judy's sweet mount, Sage, is kissing his new friend. Before meeting these furry, funny-looking alpacas we had an amazing ride through the parks. Chaunson was well behaved standing perfectly while Judy and Sage cantered around to blow off some excess steam. Judy is 71 years old and has ridden in all corners of the globe. As we slowly meandered over a bridge and down a sandy, Palmetto-arched alley, she was telling me about her adventures with a giant Silverback Gorilla somewhere in Africa. Just then Chaunson started snorting and whirled about in a circle out on the paved road. Judy's Sage, thankfully, stood calmly and watched the three bucking, cantering, frolicking alpacas whoop it up. Chaunson's heart was beating madly, but he is such a sensible horse. I was grateful that his part Quarter horse nature was overriding his Thoroughbred instincts. The alpacas would not settle down - they were so obviously besides themselves with glee that we had come to visit. A lady who takes care of them appeared and told us that we must have very good horses because rarely can other people ride so close. Sage was determined to touch the unusual animals. I was a little hesitant because the alpacas have a hysterical looking sharp, single tooth sticking out from the bottom of their mouth. The caretaker assured us that the tooth wouldn't hurt our horses so even Chaunson got into the kissing act after a few minutes.

The zebra lives across the street from the alpacas and I wondered if he would make an appearance next. 

Judy and I rode back to the barn and mused about the people and animals in this little unique slice of the earth. Judy jokingly, lovingly calls our stable "The Island of Misfit Toys" and that moniker is more profound than any I've heard.

My first day back to the barn this year I was greeted by a new, long haired black and white cat. The cat was new to the barn, but clearly not new to the world, with a skinny, old soul kind of look. Cats at barns are nothing unusual, but this one came with a very different sidekick - a huge, white duck. I posted about this duck, whom I've heard people call Donald or Aflac, and each day I fall deeper in love with this pair of misfits.

I will try to get a photo of the sweet kitty too. When I get to the barn, the pair comes out to say hello, the cat so obviously hungry, but too kind to think about eating his fat friend, and Ducky, so busy telling me...something! I have never been around ducks before, but I am in serious trouble here because this duck is unbelievably lovable. He never stops talking with such inflection and head cocking and intense human-like mannerisms. He gets very close and touches my knee with his beak when I kneel down, like he is making sure that I am still listening. My research tells me that these guys bond with humans for life which is easy to believe. I had no idea that he hatched from an egg on this property until Judy forwarded a recent post she did on Facebook about Donald. I have copied Judy's photos and words below because they capture even more of the magic here.

Ducks and Horses

Ok, fickle woman that I am, I find myself in love yet again.  Not once but twice.  First, my heart has been stolen by a DUCK whose name is Donald--what else!--.  Donald came to our barn as a simple fertilized egg and was hatched on site.  He had a sibling but only for a brief time.  No mama.  No papa.  It seems, consequently, that he has imprinted on humans.  This handsome fellow is full grown now; he never leaves the property as his every need is carefully met by all of us, his slavish admirers.  Jolayne purchased special duck food; it is kept in the feed room to be administered at anyone's discretion.  He also is quite satisfied with sweet horsefeed; he stands at the door of the trailer as Mandy fills horse food bins and calmly waits for his share.  He has a small swimming pool to frolic and bathe in.  I noted that Julie carefully emptied it, cleaned it and refilled it today.  His charms are becoming legendary.  He woos us not only with his snow white feathers and neon orange beak and feet, but with conversation worthy of a philosopher.  No topic is off limits from him.  He coaxes you to kneel down before him and bare your soul with all its woes, worries, happiness and glee.  You can tell him anything.  He is filled with empathy and advice evidenced by the fact that no matter what you say, he quacks back at you at great length.  And he never just blows you off.  You can have his full attention for as long as you are willing to kneel at his feathered breast.  Never have I conversed in such depth with a fowl of any kind.  Donald reluctantly lets you stroke him, but he clearly does not understand why that is necessary for us humans.  He tolerates our need for tactile affection, but does not give it back in kind.  Perhaps he feels that his companionship, his conversation and his handsome face is more than enough for him to give.

A duck story:  Yesterday, my friend Ruth arrived at the barn with a U Haul trailer.  Her quest was to fill it with manure to take back to her hungry, heavily planted back yard.  The two of us worked on the manure pile for over an hour, carefully filling big, black plastic bags with the rich fertilizer.  Donald never left our side.  He watched.  He quacked advice regularly and with great enthusiastic gusto.  He stood patiently beside me, then moved over to supervise Ruth.  We humans got dirty, sweaty, smelly and generally disgusting.  Donald tiptoed over the mounds of manure, twitching his little white tail, never pausing in his encouraging quacking.  At the end of the task he remained snow white and spotlessly clean.  Then he followed us into the barn where I introduced Ruth to my favorite horses, which is pretty much all of them.  Donald was magnanimous in yielding the floor to the silent equines.  He is the most amazing duck that you can imagine.  Come and meet him.

Judy on Dingo after our Tuesday ride

And today I rode Dingo.  Dingo arrived at our barn several years ago as a rescue horse that, in my opinion at the time, was way, way beyond rescue.  He had no hair.  He had no body meat or fat.  He simply was a scrawny set of sad horse bones covered by very ugly skin.  No one thought he would live.  And if he did, what would he be like after being so abused by humankind?  Well, I can tell you what he is like:  sweet, willing, trusting, hopeful, eager to please, eager to GO.  And if that were not enough accolades, let me tell you that his trot is like gliding over the earth.  No need to post.  No need to stand in stirrups.  Just sit back and glide with him.  And his canter would put to shame the smoothest rocking chair.  I loved my ride on him today.  I lost my heart to Dingo.  How did he overcome his childhood of abuse?  If you knew our Mandy, I would not even have to try to explain.  Mandy loved him and horse whispered him into the fine steed that he is today.  

Mandy on Sage after our Tuesday ride

Mandy riding the brush

In this season of love and joy and giving I am so very blessed to have found these friends - horse and human, feline and feathered. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thoughts on groundwork...

Me on Chaunson, in front, and Titan's little ears listening to Barb

Our time here in Florida has been warm and full of horses and dolphins and tennis and beach and kayaking and bike riding. As November ended and December began I came to the realization, with sadness, that I am not really a writer at all. I do not feel compelled to write. Blog and book have easily (and happily) been forgotten as I try to eek out every second of time I can get with Maizie and Brian and horses and sunshine. Being outside, far away from a computer is liberating and the most fun ever. Then, sunset comes and Maizie cooks up an evening scheme of swimming or poker playing or shuffleboard or some such family time together and any ideas I have of writing a blog post go out the door. She is 14 now and the thought that we probably only have four more years together like this seems impossible and makes me not care one shred about the balance of philosophical thought with action. In other words, I am so busy doing that I can't stop to document it properly!

Still, ideas about horses and kindness and training swirl in my head and I need to get them down before they go missing forever. The one that has been nagging at me for a few weeks is the idea of groundwork. So this post might be staccato - just a purging of some loose and random observations.

On my second day here this year I was asked, "Do you do any groundwork with horses?" The barn where I ride in Florida is full of good, solid, kind, horse people who put a lot of emphasis on lunging and roundpen work so I answered, "Yes, I do groundwork, but I don't think you would call what I do groundwork per se." I knew if I explained further it would seem like I was a complete idiot.

A little behind the motion here as I drive my sweet, green charge with my seat.

Chaunson, the chestnut Appendix gelding I've been riding had some difficulty with riding on the trail with other horses. His first time out with me he willingly took me through all the parks. I was new to him and together we floated forward on the euphoria and overall giddiness of my return to a favorite place. The second time out was not so happy as he pulled ugly snake faces, threatened to kick our companions, balked and refused to walk forward some of the time. Any quiet encouragement from me would elicit pinned ears. 

I knew that I had to get him to trust me by using my own style of what I called groundwork. Actually not groundwork at all, some of what I wanted to do involved basic horse care. My first concern was his stall. I don't care how a horse is kept -  in a stall with partial turnout or 24/7 turnout with shelters - but whatever system is used, the horse must be provided with a safe clean space and clean water - around the clock. Chaunson has a habit of pooping in his water bucket. I believe this is an intentional act that illustrates frustration. Destructive habits like this begin to disappear when horses are happy and engaged. I cleaned out his buckets and with help to move the mats, stripped his stall. I am trying to keep his buckets as clean as possible during my sporadic visits. The amazing barn operator and Chaunson's fabulous owner, both, sadly, are injured right now so Chaunson's constant bucket cleanliness is understandably not a top priority to anyone but me (this water-bucket neurotic lady from Pennsylvania). Still, we have seen improvement in this area with a few days in a row that Chaunson used his stall rather than the bucket - hooray! I believe a horse can better concentrate on giving me a safe ride if his stall is clean and his bucket fresh.

Next, I put a huge emphasis on hand grazing - before and after a ride. Chaunson's kind owner grooms and hand grazes him regularly and Chaunson knows he is loved immensely because of this quiet bonding time. I needed Chaunson to know that I, too, value hand grazing and our rides sometimes begin and always end with a relaxed non-hurried hand grazing session in the churchyard. This is payback for his effort and seems to me to earn way more respect points than other acts. His nonchalance as we walk out to the churchyard on a loose lead line, he helping me nibble my own clementine, speaks volumes about his confidence in me. He doesn't grass dive with worry that his time to graze will be brief. Instead, he calmly strolls out as if we have forever to munch and soak up the sun. I like to give my horse at least the same amount of grazing time as riding time. Fat over-stuffed sausage horses like Pie can be led and ambled along sparse patches too for free "special grazing" time which creates a non-riding bond. 

More "groundwork" for Chaunson involves the way I pay attention to him as I groom. It is difficult to talk to other people while grooming a horse and still keep my own concentration, intention, and interest. I needed Chaunson to know that I was listening to his comments. This brush tickles, this foot is tricky to pick up because it once was ouchy. I hear him and do not rush him and I can tell he appreciates that.

On our rides when the ugly faces were pulled, I would ask Chaunson to stand silently and together we would wait until his ears were again forward. Then, after a short amount of time - enough so I thought he would not associate my actions with his nasty behavior toward other horses - I would slide off the side of him and we would walk side by side together. I was willing to walk the whole time if necessary, but usually it didn't take long. I believe his pinned ears and posturing is true fear of the other horses. When I walk with him I am certain that he knows that I am his advocate - "on his side of the disagreement" - if you will. In a short amount of time Chaunson's body relaxed and he snorted a bored sigh. Then I can remount. The same process works for me with hot, nervous horses who, for whatever reason did not get their bucks out during turnout. Hand walking at a brisk and intentional pace without anger or malice in my body is the very thing to diffuse a bomb. Calm sighing invariably follows and remounting is possible.

Of course, this isn't always graceful bareback. Luckily, we are in an equestrian neighborhood - sometimes there are mounting blocks and sometimes there are fire hydrants!

I am happy to report that this type of "groundwork" has worked wonders with the Chaunson boy so far. By our fourth ride, he walked the entire circuit of parks with three other horses beside him and without me dismounting once. At one point in this ride all three horses were crowded together in a tight space to avoid a belching and screeching trash truck. Chaunson moved delicately with his horsey companions, never flinching at all. He neither sneered or threatened to kick. He was relaxed and happy for the whole ride. In fact, one of the riders didn't know that Chaunson had had flare ups on previous rides. He gave no indication of any worry at all. I don't think we are entirely out of the woods yet, but we are well on our way to forming a bond that instills trust, confidence, and mutual respect.